There are numerous instances in life when ethics plays a major role in the decisions we make as humans. These instances of ethical decision making mostly occur when conclusions are reached that directly effect people. The United States is the most powerful country in the world and is involved with many issues of third world countries. These less fortunate countries depend on the U.S. support to help them with their problems.
Peter Singer and John Arthur have their own notions concerning how the wealthy and prosperous people of America should morally act to these dilemmas. Their arguments evolve around the issue of whether prosperous citizens should suppress their luxuries in life, and sacrifice them for the basic human needs of people in less fortunate situations. I will use supporting arguments from Arthur’s perspective to reason that when working hard for your own riches you should have the choice for what impact they will have on others.
In the beginning I will explain Singer’s arguments and principles, which give a supportive background for the morals he feels should be portrayed particular situations. This will allow for an understanding of his importance of morals and how he is approaching the concern of people suffering from a lack of food, shelter, or medical care. From this I will begin to introduce Arthur’s perception and how he portrays this scenario.
Stating Arthur’s objections will help lead into my arguments. At this point I will begin to interconnect my view with Arthur’s to make strong arguments against Singer. After that I will show arguments of my own to explain how I stand on the matter.
In Peter Singer’s excerpt, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” he illustrates his opinions regarding a catastrophe dating back to November 1971, when the people of East Bengal were dying due to the lack of food, shelter, and medical care (759). Singer’s main principle that clarifies his position is, “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (761-2). This dispute states that if you have all this wealth and are able to buy extravagant resources which have no significance to your basic needs in life, then you should instead use it for things that do have greater significance. He believes that if more people acted this way then the problems that occur in these third world countries would begin to lessen. Singer also believes that in this modern age with the more advanced technology, a third world country is just the same as a neighbor to us.
One of the variables he brings into this dispute is the “proximity and distance” of a situation. Singer uses the example of a child drowning in a pond while another person walking by is forced to make the decision of diving in to save the child and getting his clothes muddy, which is clearly insignificant, or letting the child drown (762). This scenario comes into relation with his principle that states if something is “of comparable importance”. Obviously, the clothes getting muddy are not equal to someone’s life, so therefore the man will jump in to save the child. Another similar circumstance was the incidence involving Kitty Genovese when she was killed outside in front of an apartment complex. There were plenty of people in the area to help, but because of this, each individual felt that it wasn’t their responsibility to call the cops, assuming that someone else would make the call. Singer refers to this as “numbers lessen obligation” (763). The more people that are around us, the more we feel that the responsibility is equally spread around to each person. Overall Singer believes that we should give up all that we have till we are at the same status as everyone else.
In the passage, “World Hunger and Moral Obligation: The Case Against Singer” John Arthur has his own opinion on this the catastrophe in East Bengal, most of which object to Singer’s comments. Arthur focused his arguments on two privileges, one being rights and the other on desert (772). He approaches this situation as more of having a moral choice to help alleviate the pain of someone else rather than a moral obligation to this duty. He mentions that his code “does not require such heroism” (773). He believes that we have this “right” and that it is more significant than any duty you could do that would help someone (773). There are two forms of moral rights according to Arthur, positive and negative. Positive rights are rights that you acquire by being a recipient of someone else’s actions or decisions (773). Negative rights, are privileges that come naturally (773). According to Arthur, no rights exist without an agreement made between the two people. This allows us to make the decision of whether or not we feel obligated to help some other random person.
The other privilege that we obtain according to Arthur, is the entitlement of desert. The example that he uses to explain this involves a situation where one farmer works extremely hard to make a living and support his family, while his neighbor goes fishing everyday. So when the man that went fishing everyday becomes deprived and asks the hard working farmer for some support, the farmer is put in a tough position.
I believe that whatever a man earns and works hard for is his own possession, and no one else can take that from him. The time and effort that you put in as an individual should allow you to make the decision over what you do with your own earnings. If you want happiness in your life you have to work for however much will make you satisfied. There may be more fortunate people than others because not everyone is raised in the same environment, but its how well you are able to use what you are accessible to that will make the difference. Another point, involving relevant issues is the issue of welfare and the system that it operates through. The idea that people making a lot of money, most likely the people with all the luxuries, are paying higher taxes than someone who is making less money is unjust. This tax money that is accumulated is being put in to the welfare program and given to the people with less money who are paying an extremely lower tax rate. This example is a mini model of the East Bengal situation and provides an occasion where someone is both giving up their money, that could be used for luxuries, but is instead helping out someone else in need. An objection to this claim might be the fact that everyone has to pay taxes which go to government programs, but what makes this argument strong is the fact that no everyone pays the same amount.
The decisions we make will always have an impact on someone somewhere one way or the other. It is our responsibility to make the conclusion that will best benefit ourselves and then the others around us. If working hard allows you to live with extravagant accessories in life than you should be allowed to have full control over what you want to do with your extra resources. This follows along the lines of Arthur’s arguments involving the rights and desert that a person has. In Singer’s state this is not all true and many objections are made to a lot of his principles. Everyone controls their own destiny in life, so make the most of what you have and stay motivated to your goals in life.